ON: Single Asian Female with Patrick Jhanur and Courtney Stewart

Last year, we were reading so much about how incredible Single Asian Female was during its Brisbane season; to say we’re excited would be an understatement. How has it been for you bringing the show back To a different audience?

PATRICK: It’s been exhilarating adapting to the Belvoir space. Getting the feel of the show back in our bodies forced us to jump off and trust ourselves and each other. We all absolutely adore one another and Lucy Heffernan has been a wonderful addition to our Single Asian Female family. The opportunity to get everyone back together and have a second run at a play is something we all recognise as an immense privilege in Australia. Having a sold-out season up in Brisbane was undeniable proof that Australia is crying out to see diverse stories represented on our stages. Sydney is a different audience altogether – wealth disparity is more pronounced here and there is a racial and gendered overlay to that divide. I feel we’ve brought a sharper play to Sydney and are all the more inspired by what this story means to our audiences. Despite being well overdue, it’s incredibly uplifting to begin seeing diverse representation at the foundation of our arts programming and funding.

COURTNEY: It’s been an incredible experience bringing this show to Sydney. So much has happened since our Brisbane season! We’ve welcomed the Powerhouse that is Lucy Heffernan to our cast, Michelle (Law- Playwright) gave us a new draft of the script for the Belvoir season, and a few of us have had babies. Sydney audiences have been super lovely and we’ve had so many people come up to us after the shows saying how much it means to them to have their faces and stories on stage.

The Laws (Benjamin and Michelle) are such powerhouses. What has it meant for you to have been part of this moment in the shift in Australia’s cultural landscape?

COURTNEY: I feel like we are experiencing a real watershed moment in Australian Theatre. The projects I’ve been involved in over the last year or so have mostly been new works by CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) artists. I really feel like right now is the most exciting time to be an artist from a diverse background.

PATRICK: For me, the Brisbane season was my first mainstage theatre show, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of something that is reshaping the systems of cultural production in the arts – and to share it with such talented emerging voices of colour is an honour and inspiration. As a fresh drama school graduate, I was overwhelmed by the play’s power, not only by its attempt to showcase the traditionally underrepresented voice of Asian-Australians, but also through its gendered take on these issues. Seeing women of colour in lead roles sends an exciting message to young women that come and see the show, and I feel it has the potential to inspire the next Michelle Law and our future generation of creatives to share their own story.

We definitely are in exciting times. For a recent graduate, you’ve achieved quite a lot in the last year. You also featured in ABC TVs telemovie RIOT recently–a film recounting a key point in Australia’s Queer rights history. Would you say stories like these reflect a growing understanding of how important it is to engage in the holistic retelling of Australia’s histories?

Definitely. RIOT is such a landmark event in Australian screen history- that this story has come to fruition and received the support it has from the ABC is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While working on the project, it was of paramount importance to everyone involved that we honoured the individuals who were a part of that history; so much so that some of the original 78ers (founding Mardi Gras activists) were present throughout the creative process and within the creative team there was a great sense of vitality in accurately depicting their story. I feel the film has enlightened so many of us who were unaware of the fundamental sacrifice, bravery and resilience that was endured by this group of individuals 40 years ago. It was also a monumental experience to share this story at the same time as passing marriage equality in Australia. It’s important that stories like this find representation in the arts as it illustrates to us that social change and progression are attainable with dedication and perseverance against widespread discrimination – but also a reminder of our responsibility to constantly stand up to that discrimination.

The play explores the power and implications of labels like “single”, “Asian”, and “female” and quite importantly- the reality of those three labels manifesting in one individual. Courtney, what’s your relationship to labels in general and these ones in particular?

Labels are an interesting concept. On one hand they can be super helpful when trying to articulate what kind of work you like or what kind of artist you are, and on the other hand they can really limit you not only in relation to how people see you, but how you see yourself. For me, my relationship with the labels “Single”, “Asian” and “Female” is that I have been all of those labels simultaneously in my life. I’ve been married for four years now. I’ve also developed a stronger relationship to my idea of what it is to be Female. I just had a baby 13 weeks ago, and I have never felt more powerful, more indestructible. And being Asian was once something I tried to ignore and deny, but now I fully embrace my lineage and culture.

When we had a chat with Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell they were quiet excited to catch your show during their tour. What are you looking forward to seeing this year?

COURTNEY: They’re too kind! I’m really looking forward to seeing Greater Sunrise, Michelle Lee’s Going Down and Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown!

PATRICK: I’ll have to second that–I’m sure Blackie Blackie Brown will be a must-see and I’m also keen to catch Greater Sunrise at the Belvoir as part of their new 25A season. The Harp in the Southepic and Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story at Sydney Theatre Company are also in the diary.

Single Asian Female will be at Belvoir Theatre Company until March 25th.
Tickets available from $37